Carroll, NE — On a turkey hunt near Newcastle, NE last spring, Mark Wieseler and Brian Petzoldt hosted military veterans, a couple of whom had never been turkey hunting before.
Unfamiliar with using a turkey call, the veterans watched and listened as Petzoldt, a Winside, Nebraska veteran, called out to attract the birds. By the end of the trip, the two rookie turkey hunters had not only tried the call themselves, but had become pretty good at it and were having a great time.
"You learn something without even thinking you learned something," Petzoldt said.
That hunting trip and others that Wieseler has organized are meant to be enlightening. Not just in terms of teaching military veterans hunting skills, but getting them to open up and maybe begin to cope with issues they've been facing.
"The deer and the turkey, that in my opinion is the bonus," Wieseler said. "Getting these guys out of the house, around other vets, shows them they're not alone."
Wieseler has organized turkey and deer hunts for Patriot Outdoors Adventures, a Kansas-based nonprofit organization that uses hunting and fishing excursions to bring veterans together with other veterans in the hopes that it will help them deal with mental or physical issues they're facing.
Even if not dealing with post-traumatic stress or other conditions caused by their service, many veterans, Wieseler said, just have a hard time adjusting to civilian life. They're used to being told what to do and when. Without that direction, some sit at home and feel isolated.
"We use the outdoors as a hook," Wieseler said. "We show them there is life outside of the basement or whatever."
Wieseler, of rural Carroll, compiled 20 years of Army service both in active duty and the reserves, including one year in Iraq. He and volunteers such as Petzoldt, a Navy veteran of Desert Storm in the 1990s, lead veterans on hunts. Though they might not have the same military experiences, they understand military life and can duplicate the camaraderie the veteran knew while in the service. Once out in the field, conversations may turn from hunting to other topics.
"During the down time, we kind of find out what the guys are having problems with," Wieseler said.
Those problems could be related to mental or physical ailments. Or they could be something as simple as needing help writing a resume for job applications. No matter the problem, the small-group setting seems to put the veterans at ease.
"We shoot the bull and just kind of see where they're at. You're another vet, not just someone in the public saying it because they're paid to," Petzoldt said. "I think it gets them to open up a little bit."
Wieseler said he hopes to be able to help more veterans as word spreads about Patriot Outdoors Adventures. Veterans are welcome to bring their own guns, but Wieseler can provide a gun, ammo and other supplies, all at no cost to the veteran. Wieseler said he's got land on which to hunt and is hoping to obtain permission from more landowners to hunt on their land. He'd also welcome donations of hunting equipment.
The Sioux City Journal (http://bit.ly/2fEAJrm ) reports that the hunts are open to any veteran from any era who has a general discharge. Wieseler, who found out about Patriot Outdoors Adventures while attending a hunting expo in Kansas, said veterans need not have hunting experience to take part in the hunts. He can also accommodate veterans with limited mobility.
Neither Petzoldt nor Wieseler claim to be therapists. They'll offer advice and suggest possible avenues of support or services. Mostly they listen, help veterans have a good time and maybe get them interested in spending more time outdoors, or at least more time out of the house.
"For some of them it's opening up something they can do and enjoy and get them out of the house," Wieseler said. "That's our goal, to give them something that makes them happy."
And Wieseler, along with the other volunteers, are happy they can be of help.